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Duncan to Issue 'No Child Left Behind' Waivers

Abby Phillip

The W.H. will unilaterally issue state waivers from No Child Left Behind mandates. (AP Photo)

Seeing “no clear path” toward reauthorizing the “No Child Left Behind” education law, the Obama administration will unilaterally issue waivers to states, exempting them from some of the law’s regulations.

“Today we’re less than a month from the start of the school year, and…we still believe there is no clear path toward a bipartisan bill to reform “No Child Left Behind,” said White House domestic policy adviser Melody Barnes in a conference call with reporters, the contents of which were embargoed until Monday.

"Our administration has been working on plans to provide more flexibility. The president has directed us to proceed with those plans.”

The announcement comes months after President Barack Obama called on Congress to deliver legislation to his desk by September that fixed the Bush-era law. But as the calendar moves closer to Obama’s deadline, the House and Senate have moved on separate paths at a pace the White House says is not nearly fast enough.

Meanwhile, states and local administrators are clamoring to the Department of Education for relief from federal mandates — and the sanctions that threaten to punish schools for not meeting the law’s requirements.

“I cannot overemphasize how loud the outcry is for us to do something now,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “Our job, simply put, is to support reform at the state and local level. We need to get out of the way wherever we can.”

In September, the administration will announce the details of the plan, which will encourage states to apply for regulatory relief in exchange for “reforms,” which include raising standards for student achievement and implementing school improvement plans and teacher evaluation systems.

Waivers are likely to address the law’s requirement that 100 percent of students are proficient in state assessments by 2014, and the stringent sanctions that could result in a complete restructuring of schools deemed as “failing.”


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Duncan said he expects the exemptions to impact students during the upcoming 2011-2012 school year.

In response to the announcement, House and Senate Democrats issued statements supporting the administration’s move, citing politically a series of politically divisive reform bills proposed by House Republicans in recent months that would likely be rejected by the Democrat-controlled Senate.

But Duncan emphasized that the plan is intended to serve as a “bridge” or a “transition” to Congressional action, not a challenge to House Education and Workforce Committee chairman John Kline’s legislation.

Kline, the Minnesota Republican who had challenged Duncan’s authority to issue waivers in exchange for reform in a June letter, continues to oppose the plan.

“I remain concerned that temporary measures instituted by the department, such as conditional waivers, could undermine the committee’s efforts to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” Kline said in a statement. “The House Education and the Workforce Committee has already advanced three pieces of legislation to reform current elementary and secondary education law, and we plan to complete our reauthorization package this fall.”

He pledged to monitor Duncan’s actions to “ensure they are consistent with the law and Congressional intent.”

For their part, Barnes said that the administration’s message to states and local school districts is simple: “Relief is on the way.”

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